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Shire Folk Album of 2017
Trails & Tribulations
Fresh from a trip to Australia with Faustus, and prior to the trio’s turn at Towersey Festival, Shire Folk caught up with Hendrix aficionado and bouzouki-wielding powerhouse, Benji Kirpatrick
SF: In an interview with your fellow ex-Bellowheader, Sam Sweeney, Shire Folk called him ‘the hardest working man in folk music’, but if that’s true, you must be a very close runner-up. How does it all work and how do you prioritise the different projects?
BK: It’s all about blocking time in advance to avoid clashes, although that never necessarily avoids the problem. My ongoing projects tend to have fixed periods each year put aside for touring; the tricky thing is always finding time (or the right time) to fit new ventures in and give them a chance at getting a foothold and gain ‘airtime’ so that they seep into people’s consciousness. Sometimes the amount of publicity you get is disproportionate to how busy you are, as well; it’s easy to assume that just because you see somebody’s name around a lot they’re incredibly busy. Naming no names, of course! I know, for example, that Sam has been very busy of late…
SF: We’ve received Through the Seasons to review, which you play an integral part on. How did that project come about?
BK: Will Pound wanted to do a project that celebrated different styles of morris and the music played for it and he asked me if I’d like to be involved. I said yes.
SF: The Faustus album Death and Other Animals was in the Shire Folk top 10 albums of 2016, and must be the group’s best so far. With just the three of you, how do you keep progressing?
BK: We are always trying to look for new material and we got lucky with that album because we were artists in residence at Halsway Manor in Somerset and had access to some unpublished manuscripts of self-styled folklorist Ruth Tongue, a controversial figure in terms of folk song collection, but a relatively untapped source. Four completely new songs came out of that resource and there is more there. We try very hard not to do anything that’s been obviously done before, which is quite a task at this stage in the performance of traditional music because pretty much all of it has been done now by somebody or other. If there’s a rare version of something lurking somewhere we’ll attempt to seek it out and we’re always on the look-out for any surfacing collections or resources.
SK: Faustus have just come back from a tour of Australia; how did you go down over there?
BK: We flew by aeroplane… Seriously though, we seemed to be very well received and we made lots of contacts in view of a return visit. We saw a lot of this yellow orb in the sky whilst there, called the sun, something which hasn’t shown itself in the UK for the longest period of time since records began recording periods of time.
SF: As well as everything else, The Transports project must have been a highlight of last year. How did it come about?
BK: Paul Sartin had wanted to stage The Transports for a long time, and some years ago he and The Young’uns put together a version of it, which was performed at Sidmouth Festival. That collaboration felt that there was a lot more mileage in it so they started making plans and, eventually, Matthew Crampton was drafted in to write some new narration to fill out the story and highlight modern parallels, and the rest of the cast was assembled. Faustus became the ‘house band’ and a show was produced. It was a fantastic thing to be a part of, a pleasure touring with a lovely company of players.
SF: You come from a folkie background. How much of an influence was your father on you when you were starting out?
BK: I was inevitably influenced greatly by the music of both of my parents when I was growing up, but as I started to become musically aware and active myself I was more influenced by the likes of Chuck Berry, Little Richard, The Beatles, Jimi Hendrix, ZZ Top and the like. The music of my parents, and the music they listened to, I absorbed by osmosis so any influence coming out from that is not for me to analyse or measure.
SF: It’s been 3 years since your reinterpretation of Jimi Hendrix’s oeuvre. What’s next on the solo front?
BK: I have formed a new outfit called Benji Kirkpatrick and The Excess, a trio with Pete Flood (a fellow ex-Bellowhead bandmate) on drums and Pete Thomas on double and electric bass. I’ve wanted to play my own songs in this line up for ages so I’m very excited to have finally got it together. All the material is my own, bar one or two Hendrix numbers and the odd choice cover, and we have a short tour in mid-September to get us properly on the road. Hopefully we’ll release an album next year.
SF: Can we expect a new Faustus album any time soon? (and if so do you have any details?)
BK: Faustus are working on new material but I have no dates yet… We’re involved in putting to music some poetry written during the Lancashire cotton famine of the 1860s, of which there is a vast amount. We have recorded a couple of tracks for the project which you can find here – http://cottonfaminepoetry.exeter.ac.uk/ – along with more information about it and will be doing more soon. As for a new Faustus album, watch this space!